Late night text messages reveal Indonesia's anger over Jerusalem embassy announcement
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudiâs late-night flurry of angry text messages to Australian counterpart Marise Payne was the first direct contact between the two over the Morrison governmentâs controversial Jerusalem announcement.
Extraordinary exchanges in a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday morning have also revealed the government decided to announce its review of Australiaâs stances on Jerusalem and the Iran nuclear deal without consulting a single official from the departments of Foreign Affairs, Defence or Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne acknowledged under questioning from Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong that she had not initiated contact herself with Ms Marsudi.
As the worldâs largest Muslim country, Indonesiaâs response to such a dramatic announcement on a sensitive question regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was expected to be a sensitive matter for Australia.
Instead, Australiaâs Ambassador in Jakarta, Gary Quinlan, spoke to Ms Marsudi on the evening of Monday October 15, hours before Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Senator Payne announced the review the next morning.AdvertisementLoadingLoading
Ms Marsudiâs angry message s - which were leaked to Seven News last week - came through to Senator Payne late that night. She then spoke to Ms Marsudi the next day but only after the announcement had been formally made.
âThe first contact between Foreign Minister Marsudi and yourself was the foreign ministerâs â¦ messages expressing deep concern at the announcement late at night on the Monday in relation to this announcement?â Senator Wong asked.
Senator Payne replied: âYes.â
âSo you didnât seek to call her?â
âNo, that briefing process was taking place through DFAT.â
Senator Payne acknowledged she did not actually know Mr Quinlan was calling Ms Marsudi on Monday night, though she knew that âformal processes were in place for making contact both here in Canberra and in Jakartaâ.
In the blistering WhatsApp messages, Ms Marsudi warned that Australia's talk of recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital would be a "really big blow" tha t "will affect bilateral relations and would "slap Indonesia's face on the Palestine issue".
"Is it really necessary to do this on Tuesday?" Ms Marsudi wrote, in a reference to the fact she happened to be hosting Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki that day in Jakarta.
The hearing underscored the frantic nature of the planning of the announcement.
Senator Payne revealed she herself learnt of it only on Sunday, October 14, just two days before it was made.
The governmentâs âleadership groupâ - the top cabinet ministers and parliamentary leaders - then discussed it the next morning and agreed to go ahead.
Only then did they inform top officials - the governmentâs own policy experts - on Monday afternoon. That left Australian diplomats a matter of hours to provide advice on how to make the announcement and to brief key countries including Indonesia.
The Indonesian Ambassador Kristiarto Legowo was informed 9pm Monday by senior DFAT official Tony Sheehan.
Senator Wong repeatedly criticised the fact the media were briefed on the plans on the Monday afternoon before top Defence brass and foreign countries.
Mr Morrison and Senator Payne announced the review four days before the Wentworth byelection that he would consider following US President Donald Trump in recognising Jerusalem as Israelâs capital - a controversial idea because the territorial status of the ancient city remains unresolved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr Morrison also announced he would review Australiaâs support for the Iran nuclear deal, although the government has not yet explained how it would work.
Both measures were regarded as popular with the Jewish community, which made up 12.5 percent of the population in Wentworth.
Senator Payne maintained she did not leak Ms Marsudi's WhatsApp messages herself and was confident no other minister had done so, give she had shared and discussed just one of the messages with Mr Morrison and no one else.
She repeatedly stated that the announcement was only about a âreview without prejudiceâ regarding Jerusalem and that this was a âlegitimate question for the government to examineâ.
She refused to say whether her initial conversation with Mr Morrison on the Sunday included discussion of the Wentworth byelection.License this article
- Marise Payne
David Wroe is the defence and national security correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, base d at Parliament HouseLoading
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